Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

With no go-to wideout, freshman receivers can see playing time against Michigan

The Alabama Crimson Tide will go into its first game without a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, which hasn’t happened in many seasons. The Tide is looking to replace its three leading receivers from the 2011 season. Last spring, the Tide lost Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks to the NFL Draft and Brandon Gibson completed his fourth year of eligibility. The trio had a combined total of 1,095 receiving yards last season. With these players gone, the Tide is in the hunt for receivers who will step up to fill the open positions left for this fall.

As the first game in Dallas draws near, the team’s focus is not on a single, stand-out leader in the group of receivers. Veteran players like juniors Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood will see increased playing time during this season. Freshman receivers are also in the mix this year such as Amari Cooper, whom coach Nick Saban acknowledged for his skills during this fall’s practices. Freshman Chris Black was also in the receiver mix until a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery put him out for the rest of the season.

The team lost another important asset to the passing game when tight end Brad Smelley was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Smelley caught 34 passes in the 2011 season for a total of 356 yards and four touchdowns. With this loss, the team is looking to senior Michael Williams to have a larger role in the receiving mix. Williams boasts 26 career starts and 14 receptions last season. Running back Jalston Fowler, who has spent time during camp this preseason at H-back, believes that many players in the back field can step up and make big passing plays.

“Everybody can catch and help make big plays out of the back field by catching,” Fowler said.

The Tide players and coaches said they see a lot of potential and diversity with this group of wide receivers. Rather than having one No. 1 player at this position, the receivers have different abilities that make each an asset to the team.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are quick,” defensive back Dee Milliner said. “Then you have guys like Bell and Norwood who’ve got great hands when they get to the breaking point.”

Quarterback AJ McCarron has adjusted to the change in the receiving group. McCarron was less experienced than the players he threw to last year. He said he depended on the receivers to tell him what needed to happen on the field. The receivers called the shots and he followed them. This year, he has commanded the leadership role in order to better the receiving core.

“There’s a little more talking on my part and them listening than it was vice versa last year,” McCarron said. “Now it’s kind of like if I see it, we’re going to go with it, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”

The quarterback’s leadership and drive for perfection have enhanced the quality of the receivers’ performances, Saban said. McCarron has been able to teach his receivers throughout practices during this preseason. His leadership has led to a connection between the quarterback and the receivers.

“I think we probably have maybe the best chemistry that we’ve had for a long time between the quarterbacks and receivers,” Saban said. “He has been very positive and very encouraging to the young guys.”

McCarron said he enjoyed working with this group of receivers. He sees enthusiasm and hard work from them in each practice. McCarron said he was able to connect with these players because they were a good group of men on and off the field, which has allowed chemistry between the quarterback and his receivers to grow.

While McCarron lost three of his leading receivers from last season, he has had experience beyond training camp throwing to the players who will take over these positions. McCarron completed 16 passes to Bell in 12 games last year while throwing to Norwood for a total of 112 yards. Along with the freshmen coming in this season, McCarron said he sees a group of receivers whose skills are spread out better than he’s experienced at the University of Alabama.

“We have a really good group of receivers,” McCarron said. “All the guys can run. All the guys can make plays. I’m definitely excited to get out there and see what we’ve got Sept. 1.”

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